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Do Terror Ties Really Matter?
|Dr. Khalil Shikaki|
With the last shred of hope for a viable peace process with the Palestinians tossed into the trash can by a landslide election victory for Hamas, some true believers in the inevitability of peace are prepared to hold their noses and reach out to find someone in the new governing party to talk to.
But as much as those who seek to find Hamas’ voices for peace are on a fool’s errand, that won’t mean that all ties with the Palestinians will be severed.
Given the complicated relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the State of Israel, it isn’t going to be easy to place the entire machinery of the Palestinian Authority off-limits. But even if we accept the logic of such ties, exactly who among Hamas’ cast of characters will be considered okay — and who will Israel and the United States make such a judgment about?
Profile of a Moderate
Far less earth-shattering will be similar dilemmas of American Jews and their institutions that have invested so heavily in the notion of dialogue with the Palestinians. A recent controversy over the appointment of a Palestinian academic at Brandeis University speaks exactly to this difficult problem.
The man under fire at Brandeis is Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian pollster who holds the title of senior fellow at the school’s Crown Center for Middle East Studies,where he co-teaches a course on peacemaking. Considered an expert in his field, he is the source of some fascinating polling material about Palestinians. Just last month, he released data culled during the P.A. election that showed the majority of Palestinians still supported a two-state solution to the conflict and wanted co-existence with Israel despite the vote for Hamas.
In addition to the position at Brandeis — a university with strong ties to the Jewish community — Shikaki has become a regular speaker at a host of Israeli and American institutions.
If any Palestinian is considered a moderate, it is Shikaki.
But recently, he has come under fire from the Zionist Organization of America, which called on Brandeis to sever its ties with the Palestinian and prompted calls of a boycott of donations to the school until they comply.
The knee-jerk response from much of the Jewish world has been outrage at the ZOA.
Brandeis President Yehuda Reinharz dismissed Shikaki’s critics, calling their tactics “McCarthyism.”
Americans for Peace Now rallied to Brandeis’ defense and termed the case against Shikaki not merely “unsubstantiated accusations,” as Reinharz had, but claimed the purpose of the campaign was a “right-wing” plot seeking to undermine moderates like Shikaki who have sought “common ground” with Israelis.”
How dare ZOA, which placed itself out of the mainstream by opposing Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza last summer, question the bona fides of an academic so trusted by so many Jews?
Unfortunately for Shikaki and his friends, the accusations against the Palestinian stem from a Department of Justice investigation of Islamic Jihad in the United States, not a “right-wing” plot.
Evidence presented at the recent trial of Sami al-Arian, another Palestinian academic who operated the American wing of Islamic Jihad — a bloody terrorist group even more radical than Hamas — showed that Shikaki was up to his neck in terrorist ties in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Prior to becoming the flavor of the month at Brandeis, Shikaki was the director of the World & Islam Studies Enterprise, a think tank set up at the University of South Florida by al-Arian, and which served as a front for for Islamic Jihad to establish its support network in this country.
Front for Terror
Shikaki, whose late brother Fathi was then the head of Islamic Jihad, was a part of the Islamic Jihad fundraising set-up in the United States. Transcripts of FBI wiretaps of Shikaki, al-Arian and their associates showed that Shikaki was responsible for distributing money in the West Bank under the guise of charitable activity and used Swiss bank accounts to launder funds raised in the United States. He claims they were for charities but at the trial of al-Arian, the government claimed the word “orphans” used in conversations between Shikaki and his confederates was a code word for Palestinian Islamic Jihad causes.
Whether the money was used to promote Islamic Jihad among the Palestinian population via charities that aid to promote their cause or to directly help terrorists who were killing Israelis and Americans, Shikaki’s involvement with this group of murderers is clear. After the U.S. government officially designated Islamic Jihad as a terrorist organization in 1995, it appears that Shikaki distanced himself from them. Israeli forces subsequently killed his brother.
According to Steven Emerson, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Investigative Project, there’s no question about Shikaki’s involvement. Emerson, one of the leading experts on Islamist terror connections, says the Palestinian is not telling the truth when he denies involvement with Islamic Jihad - and that the FBI tapes and other evidence combine to make a compelling case that render Shikaki’s explantions hard to believe.
“Shikaki was part of the creation of a terror network. He may be a moderate now, but he is trying to cover up his role in Islamic Jihad,” states Emerson.
Peace Now and Reinharz seem to rest their defense of him on the fact that Shikaki was not himself a target for prosecution. The acquittal of al-Arian by a Florida jury that seemed as uninterested in the evidence as the O.J. Simpson jury gives them further cover. But proof of Shikaki’s money-laundering — and his relationship with al-Arian and others now coming to light — cannot be credibly denied.
The question is: What should it mean to us now?
Mort Klein, national president of the ZOA, believes Shikaki’s role as a funder of murderers ought to render him untouchable by a Jewish institution such as Brandeis. Emerson won’t say what he thinks Brandeis should do but insists that even if Shikaki is a moderate today, he’s lying about his past. Both say the least we ought to expect from him is to own up to what he did and make an apology for those activities.
The support for Shikaki is apparently driven by a belief that his past is irrelevant. But how can we be expected to believe in his moderation — or scholarship — as long as he goes on lying about Islamic Jihad and asking his Jewish pals to back him up?
A few years ago, another famous school, the University of Notre Dame, fired a man it had just hired as head football coach because journalists uncovered the fact that he had lied on his résumé. Unlike the way Brandeis reacted to revelations about Shikaki, Notre Dame acted fast, and George O’Leary was summarily dismissed.
How ironic that Brandeis, which 50 years ago had a brief fling at trying to create its own major college football team before discarding it to concentrate on academics, now seems to have a lower standard for its Middle East Studies department than its Catholic counterpart has for its football program.
Brandeis needs to do better. So do the rest of us who prefer to ignore the truth because of our desperate need to hold on to hope for the future.
If Shikaki or any other Palestinian believes in peace, then dialogue with them might be a good idea. But dialogue, whether with him or Hamas, cannot be built on lies. Nor can peace.